Calico vs. Tortoiseshell

Difference Between Calico And Tortoiseshell Calico Calico, a lightweight cotton fabric that originated in Calicut, India. The fabric…

Difference Between Calico And Tortoiseshell


Calico, a lightweight cotton fabric that originated in Calicut, India. The fabric was originally block printed by hand in very attractive designs, and many people bought it for its bright colors and patterns rather than for the quality of the fabric or because of the fastness of the dye.

Calico was manufactured in Europe in the late 18th century and then spread to the United States. During the 19th century, settlers in the Western states, instead of spinning their own cotton yarn and weaving it into cloth, preferred to buy the factory-woven printed fabric shipped from factories in the East. This fabric was used mostly for making dresses, and soon the word “calico” was used to refer to any dress made out of this material. Today the term calico is used occasionally in stores, but it is not a technical term denoting a particular kind of fabric.


Tortoiseshell, the conventional name for the horny plates that form the outer layer of the top and bottom shells of the oceanic turtle. The rich, luminous, brown and yellow mottled material is used to make ornamental objects. The best tortoiseshell is that of Chelo imbricata, especially from Cuban waters. Less good is that of Chelo mydas, from the Mediterranean. The brittle outer layer is removed from the shell by heat and split into its component plates. Under heat the plates become soft and adhesive and can be pressed together side by side or in layers.

Tortoiseshell was greatly appreciated by the ancient Romans as a furniture veneer. Muslim workers made tortoiseshell caskets, combs, and knife handles in 11th century Cairo. Almost unknown in medieval Europe, tortoiseshell was later imported from the New World. It was recorded about 1570 that eating and drinking from tortoiseshell vessels was a way to avoid infectious disease.

Tortoiseshell has become less and less popular. When snuff went out of favor in the early 19th century, tortoiseshell snuff boxes disappeared. In the 1920s the adoption of short hair by many women greatly reduced the number of high tortoiseshell combs.

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